The tradition of an evaluation committee after an election defeat was kept alive by the CDA this Saturday, but it was not a holiday. In the KNVB Campus in Zeist, Liesbeth Spies presented a report that a committee under her leadership wrote about the damned year for the CDA: from the party leader election to the defeat in the elections to the House of Representatives. Acting party chairman Marnix van Rij stood by her side. A few minutes after taking the report from her, he announced that the party leadership had already decided to resign that morning. Former chairman Rutger Ploum had already taken that step immediately after the election defeat in March.
The conclusions from the report, which are titled Working side by side on recovery! wears hard. The committee shows the mechanisms of a party that has fallen apart. The hashtag that the party frequently used in the elections, #TeamCDA, turned out to be nothing more than a few letters in a row. In reality, there was no team spirit. Tellingly, the report’s call is ‘to put party interests above self-interest: no one is greater than the party’.
The Spies Committee notes that the ‘learning capacity in our party is small’. The CDA has an unclear profile. There was not good cooperation between the party, the faction of the House of Representatives, government officials and the Scientific Institute. You can read about a continuous internal struggle between different camps that ‘put self-interest above the interests of the Team CDA’, but also about ‘lack of mutual trust and lack of administrative leadership’.
Party leader election
The problems started after Sybrand Buma resigned as party leader when he became mayor of Leeuwarden in 2019. The CDA then ended up in a “leadership vacuum”, the committee writes. “Many speak of a ‘stadholderless era’ and indicate that this period has lasted too long.” Subsequently, it was decided too late to organize a party leader election and there was no direction from the national party board. The report describes an election with a lot of mutual mistrust between the campaign teams of the party leader candidates, Hugo de Jonge, Mona Keijzer and Pieter Omtzigt. They accuse each other of breaking the rules. This has “damaged the unity within the party also in the period after the election.” There was talk of “a hostile atmosphere and CDA-unworthy manners.”
The division, the committee also writes, has “seriously undermined” Hugo de Jonge’s position as party leader. After the election, the party ‘insufficiently supported the party leader’. The report partially confirms an earlier reading that MP Pieter Omtzigt had wanted to share with the evaluation committee in confidence last month. In that piece, which was leaked, Omtzigt had described how Hugo de Jonge’s early resignation as party leader was due to internal pressure, which was partly caused by the lack of fundraising. The report presented on Saturday states that pressure on De Jonge’s position increased “as a result of the flaring corona pandemic, declining polls and disappointing fundraising”. According to Pieter Omtzigt, he had agreed with then party chairman Ploum that he could become party leader if Hugo de Jonge dropped out. That eventually became Wopke Hoekstra, the outgoing Minister of Finance who had not participated in the party leader election at all.
The committee writes about this claim by Omtzigt that “the statements contradict each other”.
Organizing another party leader election in the future is in any case not the preference of the Spies committee. Instead, she recommends a singular presentation.
Criticism of Hoekstra
After taking office, Hoekstra was allowed to influence the election program through amendments. The committee now finds that “the democratically approved process that we know in the party suffers from this method.” The changes that Hoekstra made also ensured that members no longer recognized themselves in the CDA story. Members, for example, found Hoekstra’s election slogan, ‘Go ahead now’, ‘too far removed from the party’. Due to errors in the campaign, the CDA story “didn’t get through”. “That applies to both the content and the activities.” Members did not see the values of the CDA and the party themes reflected in the campaign. They would have liked to see more of the report Side by side, with a vision for the future for the CDA until 2030. That story, from the summer of last year, was not given a role in Hoekstra’s campaign. Over the past few weeks, it has been noticed that Hoekstra Side by side increasingly emphatically embraced in closed digital sessions with CDA members in which the election defeat and the resignation of Pieter Omtzigt as a party member were discussed.
It is striking that the reasons for Omtzigt’s resignation a month ago are not discussed in the report. Omtzigt felt isolated and at times “downright unsafe”. He had supported his story to the Spies committee with screenshots of app conversations that allegedly took place between CDA members, in which he was called a ‘terrifying dog’, among other things. On Saturday, Spies said that measures had been taken by the group. “Labour law has been discussed with those involved, who have been reprimanded.” Spies was keen to emphasize that “conversely” others mentioned by Omtzigt had also felt “hurt”. “So then you have that two-sidedness in the culture that we really have to tackle.”
As far as Spies is concerned, many people in the party should say ‘sorry’ to each other. So also Omtzigt himself. There is reciprocity there,” says Spies.
Is this divided party ready to rule? According to Spies and Van Rij, the hard conclusions from the report are no reason for the CDA not to participate in the formation process by definition. They emphasized that there is indeed unity in the new parliamentary group – so without Omtzigt. According to the two, there is much work to be done. But what should happen to restore unity within the CDA is also the big question after the report that was presented on Saturday.
The big absentee on Saturday was party leader Wopke Hoekstra. He is attending the G20 in Italy as the outgoing finance minister. Requests to call or zoom with the party leader about the hard nuts cracked in the Spies report about his party could not be honored. Sunny snapshots appeared on his Instagram page throughout the day.